Sunday, September 1, 2013

Three Start-Up Misconceptions (Tradecraft)

I occasionally get a link back in various gaming forums for people who want to start game stores. Here are a few misconceptions I want to knock down:

Your Role. The idea of running a small business with a single digit net profit number (all retail) via proxy, while you have another job, is nearly impossible. You could do it with a good manager, but you probably won't know what a good manager looks like until you've been doing that job for a couple years. You won't recognize you're being ripped off until you have a baseline experience of normal revenue and activity.

You also won't get to sit in your office and orchestrate the business from afar. I had that idea one time as I was planning my second location and a veteran owner told me to kill my office. No office. Or at least a tiny office for bare minimum functions. Your time in the office is generally wasted time and if you aren't running the business, you should be off doing some other revenue generating task, like running another business. I moved my office to the cash wrap, so I'm always in a position to help customers and do my real job of selling/protecting/cleaning games. Which leads to....

Focusing on The Big Picture. The idea here is you will be the strategy guy while your minions will deal with tactics in the trenches. Well, actually, you'll be doing both. You'll need to focus on strategy while cleaning the store, selling to customers, researching and purchasing new product, and paying the bills and other administrative work. Strategy is but one task, and most categories of tasks are no more than 10% of what you do. Generally, I'm uncomfortable asking my staff to do anything I haven't already mastered (it happens, but I'm uncomfortable). The best delegation is giving away tasks that you simply don't have time to do. You have to know all the things.

A good friend of mine told me his plan to buy a bar in Costa Rica. He had a business background, so he figured it should work. I informed him his background was probably good for about 10% of what he would be doing, and without a bar background or at least a small business background, the other 90% of needed skills would be hard earned. His employees, who neither knew him nor spoke his language, were likely to rip him off if he didn't get up to speed really quick. I advised him against it. He lasted 18 months before the business failed. He blamed employee theft, but he really wasn't prepared going in.

Your Gaming Focus. Most hobbyists start out thinking they'll start a game store focused fairly exclusively on things that interest them. Unfortunately, the game trade is not only diverse, but highly competitive, especially online. Your community might have supported a Magic store or a board game store at certain times, but a lot of customers are shopping online and don't need you or care about your existence. It's not insurmountable, but although there probably are enough customers in your area to support that game, they just won't be getting it from you.

My local community had six stores when I opened eight years ago. Now there is me, a fly-by-night Magic store and a niche store that does most of its business online, supplementing that with discount special orders. The game trade is booming, yet the brick and mortar footprint seems to have shrunk. That means I sell whatever my customers want. My Little Pony, board games, card games, whatever they demand. I don't get to choose if I want to make money.

Also, snacks and drinks are a diversion. Forums will argue all day about the merits of selling them, the hassle of cleaning carpets, and how they'll keep your business afloat. That's just crap. They're an add on purchase, like dice or card sleeves. Sell them like anything else, but stop obsessing over carbonated beverages.

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